NADIGRAM: Memories of the dark days of the anti-land acquisition movement, when they hunkered down in paddy fields as marauding hordes roamed about terrorising people, have returned to haunt Nandigram.
Staccato sounds of gunfire are once again breaking the fragile peace of this small town in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district where violent clashes between ruling TMC supporters and those of the BJP have become commonplace in the run up to the assembly elections to be held in a few months from now.
“For the last three days, we have been spending sleepless nights,” says 62-year-old Shyamal Manna as gunshots frequently ring out near his mud house.
Manna, who lost his sister-in-law during the bloody anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram in 2007-2008, and scores of others like him are a disqueted lot ever since former TMC heavyweight Suvendu Adhikari switched over to the BJP, setting the stage for an electoral showdown that has left the locals fidgety and on edge.
“For the last two weeks, every day, skirmishes have broken out. Earlier, we witnessed only political violence, but now it has turned communal, too. Sounds of explosions and gunshots have snatched away our sleep. All this is so reminiscent of the bloody Nandigram movement,” Manna told PTI.
His nephew Gokul said his wife and children have stopped venturing out altogether.
“At times, I feel like leaving this place and settling somewhere else. I lost my mother due to this violence. I don’t let my wife and children go out of the house these days,” he said.
A blood-soaked Nandigram, a little known semi-urban landscape that shot to national limelight in 2007, had jolted the mighty Left Front government and laid the foundation of the TMC dispensation in West Bengal, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, then an opposition leader, leading the anti-land acquisition stir from the front.
Several women were gangraped and many people killed, including 14 in police firing, during the 10-month-long political violence, at some point of which residents turned the area into a no-man’s land, digging up roads and making villages inaccessible.
In present-day Nandigram, the battle lines seem to have been redrawn after Banerjee announced her candidature from the seat, the home turf of Adhikari, who has asserted he will defeat his former boss by “at least 50,000 votes” if fielded from the contituency, Kavita Mal of Gokulpur village, whose house was set on fire in 2007, feels dark days await Nandigram.
“I had received five bullet injuries back then. Somehow, I survived by God’s grace. After TMC came to power in 2011, we thought the place will be peaceful. But now, it seems that violence has come back to haunt us,” she said.
Soma Pradhan (name changed), 45, who was gangraped 14 years ago amid the massive protests against land acquisition by the erstwhile Left Front government for creation of a special economic zone, said she and her family don’t leave home after dusk.
“The situation is not good. Our neighbours have seen masked men roaming around in the villages at night,” Pradhan said.
According to police sources, clashes between activists of the two parties have become frequent in the last few weeks, with TMC and BJP offices being vandalised and set on fire.
“For the last few years, there were hardly any instances of violence. But, circumstances have changed drastically in the last few months. Every day there are sporadic incidents. Some don’t even get reported,” said a police officer.
Sources in the both the parties admit that things took a dramatic turn after Adhikari and his brother moved over to the BJP.
“Over the last 10 years, Nandigram and its surrounding villages were considered TMC bastions with virtually no opposition. However, now it is the TMC versus turncoats of the TMC,” local Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) leader Bhabani Prasad Das, who was part of the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC), told PTI.
The BUPC had launched an aggressive resistance against forcible land acquisition.
Following the Nandigram movement, the entire East Midnapore district turned into an impregnable fortress of the TMC, but after Adhikari’s move, several villages overnight switched sides and rival camps took control of party offices, the sources said.
Even as Gokulpur, Gokulnagar, Gopimohanpur, Adhikaripara and Heria have turned into strongholds of the BJP, Sonachura, Haripur, Khejuri, Brindaban Chak, Daudpur, and Tekhali remain faithful to the ruling party, they said.
Radha Rani Ari (name changed), who was also gangraped during the brutal stir, said except for Adhikari, no other leader of any party inquired about the condition of the hapless victims all these years.
“During the CPI(M) regime, we were used as pawns, and now during the TMC rule, too, violence and rape are used as political tools to settle scores and dominate the area. It is the locals like us who suffer,” she said.
“Menfolk from the villages have formed groups to keep vigil at night. A few days back, some of the thatched roof houses were set on fire, and food grains and poultry looted,” said Joydeb Mondal of Adhikaripara.
Sheikh Sufiyan, a senior TMC leader and deputy chairman of East Midnapore Zilla Parishad, alleged Adhikari and his men are trying to vitiate the atmosphere.
“There was no sign of the BJP in Nandigram. It is Suvendu Adhikari, who helped the saffron party gain ground here. Now, he wants to bring back the days of anarchy. We will never allow that to happen,” he said.
The BJP district leadership, which had gone hammer and tongs at the TMC over its alleged Muslim appeasement politics, said the ruling party is the one fuelling communal violence in the region.
“The TMC is using brute force and has brought people from outside to terrorise the locals ahead of the assembly polls. Police is just a mute spectator,” BJP Tamluk district general secretary Gour Hari Maity alleged.
The TMC had pocketed all the 16 seats in East Midnapore district in the last assembly polls, the next edition of which is due in April-May.